Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Review of The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes

Christopher Wilk, while finishing his novel in the MFA Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill, wrote for one of his class assignments a book review.  And he happened to choose my own novel to write about, The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes.  He showed me the review, and since his own blog will not be up for a while, I offered to post it here.  It’s a bit of shameless huckstering on my part, but I really did appreciate his review—I was impressed by what Chris had to say about the "milieu" and especially the style of the book, which in many reviews does not get addressed enough, the words on the page and how they make meaning.  So, with his permission, I post the review here, and I hope you enjoy it.  Many thanks, Chris, for all your insights! 

Ancient Aliens Create a Milieu for Interstellar Wonder, Intrigue, and Passion

- a book review by Chris Wilk

Albert Wendland’s story begins with interplanetary travel and the discovery of two strange derelicts, one of them sinister, jagged, and thorny, and the other a peculiar looking spaceship with three murdered people aboard. Along with the bodies, clues are found for the location of a Clip (Carrier-Locked Integrated Program). A race of ancient aliens have hidden an unknown number of Clips. The Clips, only four of which have been found on different planets and an asteroid, contain ancient alien technology that has propelled the human race toward interstellar expansion at a society-disrupting pace. Clips provided light-space and FTL travel, artificial gravity, instructions on how to build a planet-sized habitat, and secrets of a military nature kept classified by the government of Earth. The prospect of riches for the finders of the fifth Clip drive five disparate characters on a dangerous, life-threatening, galaxy-wide hunt involving four governments, several corporations, and the enduring genocidal conflict between two ancient and extinct alien races.

One of the key components, making this story so engaging as science fiction, is its milieu. Milieu is more than simple setting. It is the author-created world in which the characters are immersed: the totality of the physical, social, cultural, governmental, legal, technological, interstellar, and alien influences. In Alien Landscapes’ Wendland’s milieu causes characters to act, react, and interact in ways only possible in his story’s world.

Wendland’s setting is interstellar in scope. The story unfolds in the deepness of space, moves to Annulus (a planet-sized habitat created by an alien Clip), and continues to evolving planetary systems in search of a Clip. His descriptions convey a sense of awe by vividly presenting the motifs of his world, both artificial and natural, from the  minutest detail of a fluorite shard to the immensity of galactic travel. Scientific and poetic prose are employed by Wendland to give the reader a picture and feel for the environment of his characters.

He is adept at showing in terms of angles, distances, mass, tectonics, and astrophysics, and he includes such ideas as hyperbolic energy, light-space and time-space, a higher-dimensional analog of a mathematical theorem, fumes laden with sulfur, and 2000-degree lava streams. Though the reader may understand only 90 percent of the Sci-Fi talk, the context and comprehensiveness of the descriptions elicit a full sense of wonder and dramatic, captivating images.

Poetic prose complements and amplifies scientific narrative. As inspiring as the Sci-Fi talk is, the poet in Albert Wendland takes the reader to an even deeper level. “. . . the viewscreens brought out structure, milky dyes floating in ink: oxygen’s fluorescent greens, hydrogen’s excited reds, reflected dust’s gossamer blue.” “. . . lifts and ramps and cranes, in a slightly curved splendid bouquet, [from which] sprouted the great interstellar ships, the harvest crop of this spaceport’s activity.” “A line of fire fountains squirted lava . . . seemed almost gentle, like flame creatures preening themselves . . . ”

But Alien Landscapes is not a poetry book or science manual. It is an action-packed science fiction novel, with elements of a detective mystery, fast-paced thriller scenes, and a touch of romantic suspense. The plot, subplots, and conflicts are heavily influenced by the milieu generated by the discovery of Clips. The Clips-based world provides the impetus to find more Clips. It is the source of both human and alien (Airafane and Moyock) conflict. It supplies the means by which characters pursue their goals and the interstellar stage for the various plots and subplots to play out.

Perhaps more importantly, Alien Landscape’s milieu shapes the three main characters: Mykol Ranglen, Mileen Oltrepi, and Reese Balrak. Their actions, reactions, and interactions with each other would be impossible outside of the world created by Wendland. Ranglen (a writer and poet) and Mileen (an e-painter) are ex-lovers, whose artistic attraction to alien landscapes brought them together for a time. Before they separated because their relationship became too intense, they “drank in their worlds as deep and long as they drank in each other.” Ranglen, a Clip discoverer, possesses secret knowledge about how to find Clips. When Mileen disappears to pursue the Clip-location clues found on the derelict spaceship, Ranglen tries to find her. Balrak, a smuggler and human trafficker, wants to control them both for reasons associated with the Clips and the ancient aliens.

The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes is a multi-layered literary work with multi-genre attributes, including mystery, thriller, suspense, romance, and most recognizably, science fiction. Though its milieu places it squarely in the science fiction genre, it can be enjoyed by readers of nearly all genres, even including literary fiction.

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